Monday, December 8, 2014

Mitchell S. Jackson wins Ernest Gaines Award

            The Baton Rouge Area Foundation has named Mitchell S. Jackson winner of the 2014 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence for his novel “The Residue Years.” The Ernest Gaines Award ceremony will be held at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 22, 2015 at the Manship Theatre in downtown Baton Rouge. Doors open at 6 p.m. The ceremony is free and open to the public but a reservation is required.
             Now in its eighth year, the Gaines Award is a $10,000 annual prize created by foundation donors to honor outstanding work from rising African-American fiction writers while honoring Louisiana native Ernest Gaines’ contribution to the literary world.
             “The Residue Years,” published in 2013 by Bloomsbury Books, is a semi-autobiographical novel based on Jackson’s experience growing up in Portland, Ore., in a neighborhood ravaged by violence and drug use. It follows a mother and former addict trying to steer her three sons away from drugs.
             “The Residue Years” received critical acclaim from The New York Times, The Times of London, Sydney Morning Herald and O, the Oprah Magazine, and was a finalist for the Center For Fiction's Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for best fiction by a writer of African descent. Jackson’s novel was also considered for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, the Chautauqua Prize, and was named a fiction honor book by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.
             Mitchell S. Jackson earned a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and a master’s in creative writing from New York University, where he now teaches. He also earned fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Urban Artists Initiative and The Center For Fiction. His previous honors include the Hurston Wright Foundation award for college writers. In 2012, he published the e-book “Oversoul: Stories and Essays.”
             Due to the high number of exceptional entries, several books were short listed for the Gaines Award by the judges.  They are:
            “Celestial Blue Skies” by Maggie Collins
            “Red Now and Laters” by Marcus J. Guillory
            “The Secret of Magic” by Deborah Johnson
            “Long Division” by Kiese Laymon
             Previous winners of the Ernest J. Gaines award include Attica Locke for “The Cutting Season,” Stephanie Powell Watts for “We Are Taking Only What We Need” and Dinaw Mengestu for “How to Read the Air.”
             The national panel of judges for the 2014 Gaines Award are: Thomas Beller, award-winning author and journalist; Anthony Grooms, author and creative writing professor at Kennesaw State University; author Elizabeth Nunez, professor of English at Hunter College-City University of New York; Francine Prose, author of more than 20 books, including “Blue Angel,” a nominee for the 2000 National Book Award; and Patricia Towers, former features editor for O, The Oprah Magazine and a founding editor of Vanity Fair magazine.
             Ernest Gaines is a native of Pointe Coupee Parish, La. and became a literary legend and influential American author. He is a 2013 recipient of the National Medal of Arts, a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, a recipient of the National Humanities Medal and a member of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of publication of his first novel, “Catherine Carmier” and the 40th anniversary of the adaptation of his critically acclaimed novel, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” into a made-for-TV movie in 1974 that won nine Emmy awards.  His novel, “A Lesson Before Dying,” published in 1993, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.
             For more information on the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, visit BRAF.org.


Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “ExploringCajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.